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Apr 30 2017

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Our 2016 Annual Cost of Living in Costa Rica Summary

It’s time, once again, for our annual cost of living summary. Some of you will find this interesting, but others, not so much. That’s okay— Just read the section below that describes your level of interest.

And, for the “I love numbers and details and I want to see it all” group:

Here’s a breakdown of what we spent by category to live for the entire year in Costa Rica, as well as the monthly averages. (Click the graphic to enlarge it.) The next two columns show our spending total and monthly average in each category, including the costs associated with our 31 day Mexico trip.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Overview

Some expense categories were not affected by our traveling; we had to pay them whether we were in Costa Rica or not:

  • rent
  • car-related expenses other than gasoline
  • the security system for the house
  • our Vonage VoIP phone
  • healthcare
  • pet care
  • some other miscellaneous expenses

As mentioned above, the categories that were most affected by our travels are:

  • groceries
  • meals out
  • transportation
  • entertainment & travel

That being said, our goal is still to spend $2,000 or less each month to live in Costa Rica. If you look at the monthly averages above for just Costa Rica spending, we came close to our target, averaging $2067.32 per month. But if you include our travels, we are about $352/month over that total. We continue to be extremely pleased with how we were able to live and travel for the money we spent.

Here’s a breakdown by month of what we spent to live in Costa Rica in 2016:

Previous Years Spending Comparison

(CLICK THE GRAPHIC BELOW TO ENLARGE IT.)

When you look at an overview of the last six years, we can generalize by saying that we spent about $100-$150 more per month each year over the previous year (with the exception of 2014 when we traveled internationally for 2 months of the year). In 2014, if you don’t include our international travels, our Costa Rica cost of living was $21,191.79.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Inflation

We can’t blame inflation on any increased spending. Inflation in Costa Rica was non-existent in 2016. In fact, it was slightly in the negative for the year.*

*Source: The World Bank Data

Groceries

So what did our grocery spending include? It includes almost everything – food, wine, and flowers, paper products (paper towels, toilet paper, wax paper, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil, zip lock bags, etc.), cleaning products (dish soap, laundry soap, Clorox, sponges, disinfectant, etc.), charcoal for the grill, and personal care products (bar soap, shampoo, razors, powder, etc.). All in all, not bad for $338.53/month.

Since 2015, we have been breaking out our non-food items from food items when we tally our monthly grocery spending. On average, for the year 2016, we spent about 89% on food items and 11% on non-food items  as described above. Our goal for the year was to decrease the percentage of spending on non-food items and we succeeded. In 2015, we spent 84% on food items and 16% on non-food items. How did we accomplish this? We are using cloth napkins more often, plus, we are buying less commercial cleaning products and instead, using more homemade, natural cleaning products. Not only is it less expensive, it’s healthier too.

Transportation

Our Costa Rica monthly average for transportation is down by more than $30/month from 2015 spending. (Note that these expenses do not include our travels out of the country.)

While gas prices in Costa Rica are still higher than in some parts of the world like the U.S., the price per gallon of regular gasoline continued to drop significantly in 2016. Here are the average prices per gallon of gas over the past three years*.

  • 2016: $3.60
  • 2015: $3.90
  • 2014: $5.50

* Source: CentralAmericaData.com

Even though we have an old car, we have a reliable one, and an honest and reasonably priced mechanic. We’ve only had normal wear-and-tear maintenance and repairs on our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner, with no major repairs.

Taxi and bus fares were minimal since we mostly use our car, but we do use public transportation at times, especially if we’re heading into San Jose for the day or when our car is in the shop.

Marchamo (annual registration and mandatory insurance) finally went down on our 20-year-old car in 2016. 

Rent, Phone, Utilities, & Housecleaning

Our electricity bill is still quite low since we don’t have to pay for heat or air-conditioning. That’s one big reason we chose to live in the Central Valley. However, our expenses for electricity did rise from $48.72/month in 2015 to $55.91/month in 2016, though our general usage was about the same.

Another reason that our electric bill is low is that we use bottled propane gas for both cooking and hot water. Just as gasoline prices went down in 2016, so did the cost of propane (from an average of $19.91 in 2014 to $13.24 in 2015, and then to $12.22/month in 2016). When you look at both electricity and propane, our energy costs average only $68 per month.

We have two cell phones and a Vonage phone. With Paul’s cell phone, we have a monthly contract and, though the bill fluctuates a bit from month to month, it’s usually about $20-$25 per month. My (Gloria’s) phone has a “pay-as-you-go” sim card and it probably costs me about $3 per month—I’m not a big phone talker and mostly use my phone to check in with Paul.

Our internet service is a high-speed wireless connection through a private company. ICE, the national electric and phone company, still does not provide service in the Magallanes area where we lived in 2016. If one day they do, we could probably reduce our monthly cost for Internet. Though this is one of our larger expenses, we do watch television over the Internet which eliminates the need to buy a TV and pay for cable.

We include “housecleaning” in this category because it was included in our rent when we lived at the Cabinas, so it’s easier to compare that way. You’ll see that this included our payment of Workman’s Comp insurance, our share of our housekeeper’s monthly Caja payment, and her Christmas bonus, which is required by law. You can read an explanation of the law at this link:  http://www.crlaborlaw.com/espanol/christmasbonus.htm.

Healthcare

Our healthcare expenses went up by 20.0%, from an average monthly expenditure of 215.05 in 2015 to $258.11. This increase has less to do with an increase in healthcare expenses than that fact that we continue to add some healthy supplements to our daily diet (included in this category). We also joined Hospital Metropolitano’s MediSmart plan in May 2016 and, though we paid for one year in advance, we actually showed the expense averaged on a monthly basis ($12.50).

We continue to use the Caja for most healthcare needs. You can read more about this in our article: “Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Join the Caja, Costa Rica’s National Medical System.”

Entertainment & Travel

The main chunk of spending in this category in 2016 was our 31 day trip to Mexico, costing a total of $3,417.98. For the past three years, when we traveled to Mexico, our airfare costs were paid by International Living as they flew us there to take part in their conferences. Since they did not do a conference in Mexico in 2016, we paid for our own airfare in addition to the rest of our travel expenses.

You can read our articles about what we spent on our Mexico trip at this link.

In 2016, we also took two other trips of note. The first was to New Orleans for another International Living Conference. Since our airfare was paid for by International Living, that cost is not included in our travel expenses. After the conference, we spent four additional days in New Orleans, staying at an Air BnB. You can read all about our New Orleans trip spending at this link.

The third trip we took in 2016 was a 12 day road trip to Costa Rica’s Southern Zone which cost a total of $1,114.35.

It was a great experience and we can’t wait to go back. You can read about our Southern Zone trip and spending at this link.

Other than those expenses, this category includes things like book and magazine purchases and a subscription to Netflix. I read a lot on my iPad and I’ve found that I can keep my costs down by taking advantage of all the free books available on Amazon. It also includes the cost of admission for parks we go to, including Playa Dona Ana for our “beach days,” museums, and cultural events, though most we take advantage of are free.

Everything Else

There’s not much to point out in the other categories:

  • Meals Out – We still eat out occasionally but usually have dinner at home, except for special occasions when we eat at nice restaurants, and when we travel.
  • Pets – We still have our two cats, Tori and Laura Chinchilla, so our main expenses are cat food, litter, and occasional vet visits. As mentioned above, also included in our 2016 spending were the expenses we incurred by caring for two puppies who were dumped along the side of the road near where we lived. We paid for their food and medical care until they were adopted a few days later.
  • Other Household Misc – This includes things like getting appliances repaired, plants, light bulbs, and batteries, and a new blender.
  • Office Supplies/Copies/Postage – This category  includes our yearly post office box rental and postage, printer ink and paper, and miscellaneous office supplies.
  • Personal Care/ClothingHair cuts and beard trims for Paul, hair cuts, color, and an occasional pedicure for Gloria, shoes, and clothes, mostly from Ropa Americana. We also purchased some clothing while traveling and personal care items from Amazon which friends brought to Costa Rica for us in their luggage. This remains the best way to bring items like vitamins and other nutritional supplements into Costa Rica.
  • Miscellaneous – This and that, gifts and donations, anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere.
  • Bank Fees – No more stiff ATM fees for us! We paid a total of $17 in bank fees in 2016 (though in 2015 we paid $0!)  It has helped us so much to have a savings account here in Costa Rica. We write checks to ourselves from our U.S. bank account when we need cash.

So, all in all, 2016 was another very good year for the Yeatmans. We’re frugal, and tend to live simply, though we’re not minimalists. We did a lot with the money we spent, both here in Costa Rica and while traveling, and we feel really good about that. But even more important than what it cost us to live in Costa Rica is that fact that we love it here. We have chosen this beautiful country to be our home and we are grateful that it allows us to live the life we choose at an affordable price.

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Permanent link to this article: http://retireforlessincostarica.com/our-2016-annual-cost-of-living-in-costa-rica-summary/

4 comments

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  1. amas

    Hello,
    I have received your newsletter for over a year now.
    Costa Rica has been on my list of favorite countries to possibly retire in.

    A friend of mine has been visiting there frequently in the past, and several months ago moved there with the intent to stay for a couple of years.
    What she was telling me is of some concern to me, particularly as I have never seen it mentioned before in publications like International Living, which does evaluate CR as top retirement country for many reasons. Perhaps you have a mention in your newsletter, as I have not read them all?
    What made my friend ‘flee’ Costa Rica after only living there (not as a tourist) for several months, is that there is a DOUBLE STANDARD. Apparently, ‘foreigners’ are charged twice as much (or almost twice) for renting, eating out, produce, etc. That she speaks Spanish fluently did not make any difference.
    This is of great concern to me – it doesn’t matter if twice is still ‘cheaper than’ costs of living in the US of A.
    Furthermore she noted that some restaurants are entirely for tourists or expats, as Costaricans simply cannot afford eating there (not necessarily located in tourist spots).

    So, if there is anyone reading this who could enlighten me on this topic, it would be greatly appreciated.
    I am not traveling this year, and as for now I have removed CR from my list of possible countries of interest for me.

    1. Paul & Gloria

      Hello! I can understand how this would be disturbing to you. Does it happen? Yes, at times. Has it happened to us? We call it “being gringoed” and, to be honest, it’s happened maybe once or twice in the 8 years we’ve lived here. We don’t live in a tourist area and we don’t frequent expensive restaurants. We have always been treated fairly and if we sense that we haven’t, we go elsewhere. This applies to stores and even buying things at the feria (farmers’ market). We believe that the overwhelming majority of Ticos are honest and fair and our experience bears this out.
      Hope this helps.
      Gloria

  2. anewdayvegan

    Your information is so helpful! We are vegan so I wonder how much of your food budget is dairy, meat, and eggs.

    1. Paul & Gloria

      Hello! That’s a great question, though I don’t have an easy answer. I can tell you that we do eat meat, usually once a day. We also eat eggs and cheese pretty liberally. But at the same time, we eat a lot of veggies. A typical dinner for us might be, like tonight, a potato corn chowder with a bit of ham for flavoring, or a salad with grilled chicken. I also cook vegetarian meals and am trying to increase these. I also cook a lot from scratch, so most of what we buy is whole food, not processed. Hope this helps some.
      Gloria

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